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PAHO Announces New Drive to Eliminate Rubella

Washington, DC, September 22, 2003 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced the "successful elimination" of measles in the Americas and a new effort to rid the Western Hemisphere of rubella, also known as German measles.

"I am proud to announce that there has been no indigenous transmission of measles in our region since November 2002 . . . (and) we at PAHO are very excited to have this opportunity to celebrate with you the successful elimination of measles in the Americas," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago.

She said that "this remarkable achievement (regarding measles) is the result of the hard work done by all health workers in the Americas, led by the Ministers of Health assembled here this week."

Roses made the announcement regarding measles and rubella on Monday during the opening day of a weeklong meeting in Washington of health ministers from all the countries of the Americas.

Roses was accompanied by Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the U.S. National Immunization Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He praised PAHO’s "remarkable progress" in reducing "the burden of vaccine-preventable disease throughout the region."

Roses said the hemispheric nations "now have another opportunity to put to rest permanently another deadly killer and maimer of children --- rubella disease and the devastating consequence of congenital rubella syndrome while reinforcing the goal of measles elimination."

Orenstein pledged that the United States "is firmly committed to efforts to eliminate rubella in the PAHO region by 2010. We are proud to work in close partnership with PAHO on this honorable goal."

Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) are two of the main health concerns in the Americas. Before an accelerated control program was begun in 1998, as many as 135,947 cases were reported in the region. By 2002, the number had been reduced to 11,244.

Roses said that PAHO is embarking on a "new effort to eliminate another deadly disease, rubella, from our hemisphere." She added: "We are all working together to achieve and maintain high immunization coverage, using safe, effective and affordable vaccines. PAHO sees this as a unique opportunity to achieve equity in health."

However, despite the success in controlling and even eliminating measles, both Roses and Orenstein cautioned against being too optimistic:

  • Roses: "We must acknowledge that just because there is no more indigenous transmission of measles, this does not imply that our children are completely free from the threat of measles. As long as measles is occurring in other parts of the world, the countries of the Americas are at risk for importations of measles virus, resulting in large outbreaks, as recently as this spring in Mexico."
  • Orenstein: "While we can take justifiable pride in this historic accomplishment, we must not become complacent. . . . The absence of a disease does not mean the absence of the threat of that disease. We must not be lulled into a false sense of security when case numbers are low. . . . Measles virus still circulates in much of the world. We are all vulnerable to importations of virus."

Regarding the fight against rubella, currently 42 of the 44 countries and territories in the Americas are already using rubella-containing vaccine in the immunization programs.

Roses noted in her remarks that the countries of the Caribbean and four in Latin America (Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil and Chile) have already launched a rubella elimination initiative. In 1997, the Americas reported more than 126,000 rubella cases. Five years later in 2002, this number had been dramatically reduced by 90 percent to fewer than 12,000 cases.

The human-borne rubella virus is found worldwide. It is a seasonal disease that reaches its largest incidences during the spring and early summer. In tropical region, the transmissions increase during the rainy season.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of its people. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Area of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org.